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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gaga over Wawa...

WawaHere's a success story that just melts this marketer's heart. No, not because I get to say "gaga" and "wawa". Because of how simple it is to make customers happy. How happy?

Happy enough to start a MySpace group with 5,000 members boasting "I Love Wawa"--and that's the largest of several Wawa-related groups on the site. Over the moon enough to manage a group called "We Love Wawa" over at LiveJournal with 950 members...that even cites an "Open Prayer to the God of Wawa". Now whose brand among us couldn't use a few prayers?

For those who've never heard of Wawa, it's not a cool coffee house, or trendy eatery. It's a chain of convenience stores. About 550 of them on the East Coast. If you're thinking coffee, hoagies, carbs and fountain drinks, you're thinking right. Their secret sauce? Service. While many of the postings at the fan sites praise this item or that, the tie that binds is good, solid service. Consistently good.

Sure, there's a lot of cult brands out there. That's nothing new. People attest to Hello Kitty's magical powers, Apple's killer products, In-n-Out's tasty burgers, even New Balance's width-friendly running shoes. But lovin' a convenience store full of commodities? That is new.

Which begs the question...why is customer service so hard to deliver, and deliver consistently?

Folks, we've got a crisis on our hands. We've by and largely lost touch--or completely ignored--customer service. Paul Gillin's recent piece states, "Many organizations today unfortunately have quietly forgone the one element that keeps a steady stream of business flowing: catering to the needs of the customer." Rob Walker's article on Wawa (that inspired this piece, pw req) counsels, "What's intriguing about a brand built partly on its service reputation is that the hottest consumer trend in America right now is arguably dissatisfaction with service." Yikes!

Decent customer service shouldn't be a differentiator. It should, well, just be. To the smart marketers that are using it as a differentiator, I tip my hat to you. For others, I can't help but wonder if our oh-so-strategic, grandiose plans have steered us off course from minding this most basic, and arguably most important, detail.

In fact, I'll admit I've been guilty of not paying nearly enough attention to it. I know that more than a few customer-service audits (not just customer research studies) are ahead of me--and will now be standard in my methodology. I sure would love to see some of my clients with a few fan sites dedicated to them (prayers welcome, too).

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I never get why most companies suck so bad at customer service. I guess probably because it's not easy to do. It's much easier to buy a 30-second spot, than put systems in place, and treat your employees the way that is necessary to ensure consistently kickass service.

I love Wawa, but it isn't for their service. They're the convenience store within walking distance from my grandmother's place near Atlantic City, so I've been to that one Wawa's at least a hundred times over the years.

Maybe that Wawa is an outlier, but I couldn't possibly tell the difference between Wawa and 7-11 or any other convenience store chain. Maybe the other 549 do better. :)

I am a big fan of any place that stocks Tastykake though.

I think it's another case where if a company can't quantify the affect on the bottom-line, they don't want to try it. Unless they can see where for every extra hour invested in customer service, that they get X number of dollars in increased sales, then they figure what's the point?

Paul McEnany: I"ve been around the marketing block a few times and let me share my insight.

The reason why many companies don't realize that customer service is a Profit Center and a Miracle Cure, is simple.

They hate customers. That's right, and no, I"m not drunk. They hate customers, but love their money. I know for sure this is the unvarnished truth. I"ve worked at ad agencies in NYC and podunk retail in Peoria, IL.

I have carefully studied the situation and argued with CEOs.

I have decided that many Anti-Consumer Companies hide their hate behind jingles and balloons and dancing girl commercials, but over a shaken vodka martini with two olives they will admit: they don't care.

These companies will read all the books by Tom Peters, Drucker, Deming, all the Customer Relations Revolution books, and still sit there with a stone dumb look on their face.

It hurts me to say this, but it's true. An altruistic non-misanthropic company is a very rare gem.

You'll be lucky to find one to consult or advertise.

bEst WiSheS

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